Guo Guangchang, the Chinese tycoon caught up in Beijing’s anti-corruption drive, has emerged in public for the first time after four days out of sight while assisting a judicial investigation.
Mr Guo appeared on Monday to address an annual internal conference of his company Fosun, which is one of China’s largest private conglomerates He made no mention of the investigation.
His appearance in Shanghai sparked a sustained round of applause and came as a surprise to representatives of the conglomerate’s European portfolio companies.
Trading in shares of Fosun International, the group’s Hong Kong-listed unit, were suspended on Friday ahead of the group’s confirmation that its chairman — China’s self-styled Warren Buffett— was assisting in an unspecified investigation.
When trading resumed on Monday, the share price sank as much as 13.5 per cent before recovering slightly to end the day down 9.5 per cent. The stock has gained 18 per cent this year, outperforming a 14 per cent decline in an index of Hong Kong-listed Chinese blue-chips.
Fosun said on Sunday it was not the focus of the investigation. Liang Xinjun, chief executive, added that Mr Guo was “assisting the judicial authorities with an investigation, but it is not because the company has problems”.
A European executive whose company works closely with the Chinese conglomerate said all of the group’s portfolio companies had sent representatives to the conference.
“They weren’t expecting Guo to be there and there was relief when he showed up,” the executive said. “They are not expecting any more public updates, either from Fosun or from the investigation. He has done his bit now and it is over.”
A spokesman for Fidelidade, a Portuguese insurer controlled by the Chinese group, said “everything will now continue as normal”.
Fosun is one of the mainland’s most aggressively acquisitive companies, especially overseas. The group has recently snapped up famous brand names and properties around the world including French tour operator Club Med as well as stakes in Cirque du Soleil and UK holiday business Thomas Cook.
Mr Guo has increasingly sought to base his empire on the Buffett model by using insurance assets as a means of generating investment capital. This year he bought a Bermuda-based speciality insurer. That followed the purchases last year of Fidelidade, Portugal’s largest insurer, for $1.5bn and US insurer Meadowbrook for $433m.
Fosun executives have sought to reassure investors about the company’s financial position and creditor support, saying the group had cash and liquid assets totalling more than Rmb67bn ($10.4bn) while its net debt ratio had been reduced 9.8 percentage points to 63.5 per cent over the past year.
Wang Qunbin, the company’s president, stressed that Mr Guo was assisting in a personal capacity: “So far the investigation is focusing more on the individual.”
“Fosun is not run by one person but managed by a group of executives,” Mr Wang said, noting that he and other senior executives had worked together for almost 25 years. “The banks have a good understanding about the events and they will continue to support us.”
The executives added that Fosun had recently completed the disposal of a minority stake in Focus Media, netting Rmb1.48bn. “We will continue to improve our liquidity position,” Mr Wang said.
“A lot of our investments are only held at cost,” he added. “But these are excellent assets and we believe their real value is higher than their book value.”
Additional reporting by Peter Wise in Lisbon and Malcolm Moore in London
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